How to Start a Cactus Garden

Whether grown as houseplants or in your garden, cactus plants add plenty of interest to your home. Learn how to grow these low-maintenance varietals.

Cephalocereus senilis cacti

Ed Gohlich

There are numerous reasons to start a cactus garden. Do you love the intriguing and often otherworldly look of cacti and other succulents? Are you in search of relatively easy-care potted plants? Do you want to conserve water? Then these gardens are for you. Desert-dwellers are surprisingly versatile, and you'll find that there are nearly as many cactus landscaping ideas as there are gardeners to design them.

Cactus Garden Ideas

Cactus garden

Ed Gohlich

Cacti—which are a subset of succulents—tend to be quite easygoing. You can plant a cactus garden outdoors, or bring it inside to add unique character to your decor.

Cactus Garden Landscaping Ideas: If you live in a mild-winter climate, you can plant a cactus garden. There are many landscape designs, including:

  • Cacti scattered among flowering perennials or small shrubs.
  • A desert-inspired landscape surrounded by gravel or crushed stone.
  • A wall of tall varieties, such as organ pipe cactus, blue candle, or cow's tongue.
  • One spectacular variety used alone as a specimen plant: large barrel cactus, blueberry, and prickly pear work well for this.

Container Cactus Gardens: The beauty of a container cactus garden is that you can have one even in a cold-winter area—you'll just need to overwinter the containers somewhere protected. A few cactus arrangements for outdoor containers include:

  • An assortment of small cacti in a shallow terra-cotta bowl.
  • Several containers, each with one large variety or another succulent.
  • Hanging baskets planted with varieties like rattail cactus, orchid cactus, and Christmas cactus are possibilities.
  • A mixture of colorful annual or perennial flowers and cacti.

Indoor Cactus Decoration Ideas: If you have a bright, sunny window, you can grow a cactus indoors.

  • Cactus terrariums are especially popular; a glass bowl, box, or even hanging ornament filled with small varieties and other succulents is a fascinating slice of the desert brought indoors. Remember, though, that a cactus terrarium must be planted in an open container; too much humidity can rot your plants.
  • Show off a collection of mini cacti in equally small, yet decorative, containers placed along your windowsill.
  • Grow a tall cactus in a spot you'd like to highlight, such as near the fireplace, by the front door, or in a corner near a window.
  • Assemble a miniature desert garden with small cacti and figurines of desert animals in a rustic wood or terra-cotta container.

General Cactus Care

Cactus care

 Penny De Los Santos

Cactus plant care is relatively simple, but not entirely maintenance-free. Most cacti and other succulents require similar care, although there are exceptions to the rules.

Whether indoors or out, your cactus garden needs plenty of sunlight. Aim for at least six hours of direct sun each day.

Overwatering your cacti is a sure recipe for disaster. These drought-resistant plants easily succumb to root rot, so always let the soil dry out between drinks. In the winter, it's not uncommon for cacti to require water only every couple of weeks. If your cactus garden is outdoors, Mother Nature will take care of the watering needs (most of the year) with rain, but if not, you should water your plants thoroughly at least once per week during the hottest months.

Cacti and other succulents don't require large amounts of fertilizer, but they generally appreciate a low-strength feeding during their growing season, which runs spring through summer.

Most cacti grow slowly and don't mind being a bit root-bound. If you see roots pushing out of the pot, or if your plant has grown out of proportion to its container size, it's time for a new, larger home.

See more succulent houseplants we love.

What's the Best Cactus Soil?

Potted cactus

Bob Stefko

Plant cacti in specially formulated potting soil, whether purchased or DIY. Good drainage is crucial to cactus care, and regular potting soil tends to hold onto too much moisture for these low-water plants. You'll find many brands of cactus soil mix–some are even labeled organic–on nursery shelves, but it's easy enough to mix your own soil.

A good formula for cactus soil is one-third horticultural sand, one-third cactus compost (you can use a regular potting mix for this, but remove any large pieces of wood or twigs), and one-third grit in the form of pumice, perlite, or porous gravel. Mix these ingredients together thoroughly before planting.

If you're planting a terrarium, you'll need to start with a layer of gravel at the bottom of the container, then top it with your cactus potting soil.

Easy-Care Cactus Varieties to Grow Indoors

Gymnocalycium mihanovichi cacti

Ryann Ford

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cacti and other succulents available in nurseries and garden centers, with more varieties added every year. Many are suitable for indoor gardening. The following are some of the most popular cactus varieties you can grow inside your home.

Pincushion plants (Mammillaria sp.) form small balls or "fingers" and have an evenly spaced, thick coating of spines. They often produce brightly colored flowers.

Hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum) grows in a pattern similar to a rose's bloom. The common name comes from the way small "babies" form around the "mother" plant.

Sea urchin cactus (Echinopsis sp.) are ball-shaped cacti with small, widely spaced thorns. They have very pretty flowers and are an excellent beginner's cactus.

Ruby ball cactus is actually two cacti in one: the top, colorful ball—often red—is Gymnocalycium grafted onto a green base cactus (usually Hylocereus undatus). These are sometimes sold as 'moon cactus.'

Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus sp.) has a sprawling growth pattern and often produces colorful flowers.

Crown cactus (Rebutia sp.) grows in a cluster of small balls and has a very thick coating of hairy thorns. This is one of the easiest cacti to grow indoors.

Pilosocereus pachycladus is a fairly large, fast-growing cactus with a folded, star-like shape and fuzzy-looking spines running down the edge of each fold.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgessii), also called winter cactus, is a popular holiday plant with colorful flowers at the ends of its drooping branches.

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